Airport baggage handlers accused of flying drugs throughout the US in carry-on luggage

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Fourteen people, including several airport baggage handlers, have been charged in a scheme to transport drugs across the United States using carry-on luggage, the Justice Department announced on Monday.

Three baggage handlers at the Oakland International Airport in California who were able to bypass security checkpoints as employees, are accused of entering the airport with baggage containing marijuana.

The handlers would then use their security badges to access the terminal area and pass the drugs to outbound passengers, who transported the marijuana in carry-on luggage.

The drugs were sold in the passenger's destination city in a scheme that began as early as July 2012, the department said. One of the handlers is also accused of shipping the drugs as cargo.

Members of the ring are charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with the intent to distribute 100kg or more of marijuana.

Nine of the defendants were arrested in the San Francisco area, where the Oakland airport is located, as well as the state of Arkansas.

Three are still on the run and another two are already serving marijuana-related state prison sentences.

The charge against them carries up to 40 years in prison and US$5 million (S$6.62 million) in fines, with a minimum mandatory prison sentence of five years.